Everyday sexism: how do we fight back?

Gemma Short reviews Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

everydayEveryday Sexism is based on a project which collected hundreds of thousands of stories, anecdotes and testimonials from women, contributed via Twitter and the everyday sexism blog.

These make for uncomfortable reading. Many of the testimonials speak of explicit and violent sexual assault. Much of it makes you angry. It is a condensed reflection of sexism in all areas of society.

The Everyday Sexism project was set up in 2012. By 2013 it had over 50,000 entries. Now it has 177,000 followers on Twitter. The project expanded quickly and has gained enormous media coverage. It reflects a desire amongst many women to have a voice, to be able to do something about sexism.

The fact that contributions to the project can easily be made anonymous, that women can read the testimonies of others, was important in giving that voice to women.

In the book, Bates frames a selection of contributions with commentary constructing an argument that sexism still exists in society. On the blog Bates states “it seems to be increasingly difficult to talk about sexism, equality and women’s rights in a modern society that perceives itself to have achieved gender equality”, recognising that legal equality has not created an equal society.

However Bates often seems surprised at this fact, and in fact succumbs to arguing for the same type of measures that have failed to eradicate women’s oppression until now.

In discussing the disproportionate effect of cuts on women since 2010 Bates argues, by quoting Caroline Lucas MP, that if there were more women in parliament, issues that are demonstrably unequal in terms of their impact on women would be picked up and stopped.

Having more women in parliament does not erase sexism from society.

It certainly will not change the hearts of neo-liberal politicians or prevent capitalism having crises!

In fact Bates argues for what she calls a “cultural shift” in attitudes towards women to allow more women to enter politics and to give established [women] politicians more power. She does not see the need for a radically different society.
In a chapter on women in the media, Bates discusses some of the most “in your face” sexism, that we see everyday. It is also, along with street harassment, the arena of sexism currently most discussed amongst feminists and online in the project. She, rightly, catalogues the plethora of ingrained sexism in the media, from Blurred Lines, to Page 3, to female politicians being defined by their clothes.

Yet Bates seems to fall into the trap of thinking that tweaking media coverage, banning sexist songs, or not giving sexist views a platform is a solution. In talking about chat show debates such as one on “are women who get drunk and flirt to blame if they get attacked” Bates appears to be surprised that viewers called in to share reactionary views, despite the fact that her book is an argument for the fact that sexism exists in society. If these sorts of debates did not happen, sexism would not disappear, it does not make the world a safer place. If we cannot effectively challenge these views, we cannot hope to eradicate them.

It would be impossible to summarise the many testimonials given in Everyday Sexism that expose the levels of sexism in society. It is worth reading the book for these testimonials alone. The voice given to women through the project is valuable, as is a mainstream-published and widely-reviewed book that exposes the levels of sexism in society.
However Bates has nothing to say to the women who engaged in the project of how they can organise to fight back on anything more than an individual “#shoutingback” basis.

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About womensfightback17

Women’s Fightback is a socialist feminist paper and blog produced by members and supporters of the socialist group Workers' Liberty. Workers’ Liberty is a revolutionary socialist organisation fighting as part of the labour and student movements, and in campaigns, for a socialist alternative to capitalism, based on common ownership and democracy.

One comment

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